Magdaleno Rose-Avila, director of the city’s new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, will have a two-person office and a budget of only $238,000, but he has high hopes for the office.
He’d like to see the city of Seattle support President Barack Obama’s decision to defer deportation for undocumented teens and open a path to citizenship if they attend college.
The city of Seattle could offer space and volunteers to process applications for the citizenship program, and maybe pay for attorney and application fees, he said.
To start, Rose-Avila is recruiting members of the Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board and looking for more volunteers.
He’ll need the help. His department has just one other full-time employee — former aide to Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Sahar Fathi — and a volunteer who comes in three days a week.
It’s a start.
“We cannot stress the importance of such an office, even though it is very minimal and very small to start with,” said Jesús Rodríguez, a member of the city’s Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board, of which Rose-Avila was also a member.
Immigrant rights group OneAmerica first posed the idea of a new city department for refugees and immigrants in 2011.
Rose-Avila has personal experience with the issues facing immigrants and refugees. He was raised by immigrant parents and worked onion fields in Colorado when he was 11.
In 1974, he joined his first immigrant rights group, CASA, in Los Angeles. Later that year, the group marched under the eye of a hundred police officers down every street, Rose-Avila said.
The police clubbed and pepper sprayed the group, but Rose-Avila was undeterred. He said: “I decided I was at the right place in history.”
Back then, he said, immigrant rights was a fringe topic. Today there are national efforts to reform immigration and refugee issues.
In Seattle he headed the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and was most recently the executive director of the Social Justice Fund Northwest.
In his new position at City Hall, Rose-Avila is collecting the thoughts and opinions of immigrants and refugees to formulate a concrete work plan.
He starts his day at 5:30 a.m. at a Starbucks in southeast Seattle, where he talks with immigrants from east Africa, he said.
Now, as director of a city department, he hears lots of input.
“I got a half-hour lecture of what I should be doing here,” he said.